Feature Stories 2022: Student Veteran Spotlight: Javier Villanueva III '25 - Missiles to Medicine

Feature Stories 2022: Student Veteran Spotlight: Javier Villanueva III '25 - Missiles to Medicine
Student Veteran Spotlight: Javier Villanueva III '25 - Missiles to Medicine

MLS major Javier Villanueva III '25 trades his Navy uniform for a white coat.

Javier Villanueva III '25 is a U.S. Navy veteran and a first-year Medical Laboratory Science major enrolled in the Pre-Med option for students aspiring to attend medical school after graduating from UMass Dartmouth. He is also the Student Veteran Association's Vice President, and one of two Veterans Assistants in UMass Dartmouth's Veterans Assistance Office. In his free time, Villanueva describes himself as a car enthusiast.

“I really like cars, working on cars and building cars,” he said. Villanueva owns a 2019 Honda Civic Type R, a 2005 Dodge SRT-4, and two motorcycles and is currently working on a 2006 Acura RSX.  When he’s not building cars or in school, Villanueva enjoys playing video games and building computers.

Before this, he was known as FT2 Villanueva, a Fire Control Technician aboard the USS Ohio, known as an SSGN, a type of nuclear-powered submarine capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk missiles as well as a full set of MK48 ADCAP torpedoes. 

“My main job was to operate and maintain the computer and electronic systems of the submarine fire control systems, which is how they launch missiles, torpedoes, and countermeasures,” says Villanueva  His day-to-day life was often spent well below sea level inside the submarine, which involved tracking other submarines as well as collecting valuable information for the Navy called ISR, or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.  Villanueva’s role also involved something called “Strike,” the actual launching of the Tomahawk missiles, as well as aiding Special Operations Forces (SOF) across the Department of Defense.

“I met lots of SEALs and Navy divers when we deployed them," Villanueva said. "We had a mini-submarine with a small garage that we would park it in. That was probably one of the coolest things that I got to do.”

The mini-submarine refers to as the SDV-SEAL Delivery Vehicle. The SDV is an underwater vehicle used by SpecOps groups to remain completely undetected when deploying themselves into hostile territory and is also used to plant explosives while remaining undetected.

Javier and the crew aboard the U.S.S. Ohio.
Javier and the crew aboard the U.S.S. Ohio.

As a Medical Laboratory Science major, Villanueva studies human genetics, physiology, chemistry, and biochemical diagnostic techniques. After completing the NAACLS-accredited MLS program at UMassD, Villanueva will earn the American Society for Clinical Pathology certification and title of Medical Laboratory Scientist, responsible for the laboratory diagnostics and values that help physicians identify illnesses and diseases.

Villanueva’s transition from the Navy, like that of many veterans, was challenging. “I moved across the country to a place I’d never been and started a job as a government contractor that I didn’t really enjoy.  I wanted to separate myself and my personality from the military and try to learn more about myself as a person, so I quit that job and decided to come here.”  Since enrolling at UMass Dartmouth, Villanueva says that he is enjoying both the university and his major.

“So far, chemistry has been really cool, I’ve really enjoyed it. I find the way everything works to be really interesting,” says Villanueva.

"Professor David Cabral, MLS(ASCP)CMSHCM, and Professor Malissa Norfolk, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CMSHCM are two MLS professors at UMass Dartmouth and are both certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology as specialists in hematology. They are highly educated experts in their field with both actively involved at laboratories and in research around New England," Villanueva said.

He has found the faculty in the MLS department to be extremely welcoming and helpful. “Professor Cabral and Professor Norfolk have been really cool, they’re always willing to help out and are very caring and helpful.  I don’t really know too many of the other professors yet, but so far they have been really good. I really think that I could get into hematology [the study of blood], but I’m still new to MLS, so I want to explore all that the major has to offer. I just find it all extremely interesting," he added.

After completing his MLS degree, Villanueva wants to pursue medical school to become a medical doctor, more specifically, a behavioral neurologist.

“I really want to work with people, especially kids, with disabilities that affect learning and try to find a way to help. Disabilities that can affect learning like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and other neurologic disorders can be really tough, and I think that there's a lot of room to be able to help.” 

Villanueva says that his dream to become a neurologist stems from his experience with family members affected by neurologic conditions as well as his natural scientific curiosity. “I just think there's a lot of room to help in that field. There’s a lot we don’t know about, and I’d like to do my part in putting the pieces closer together.”

Villanueva’s advice to fellow veterans is to learn about the benefits they have available to them, especially when it comes to education. “When I first got here, it was really confusing and I felt like I didn’t really know about a lot of the tools available to veterans,” he said. “So really learn about your resources. It can feel challenging, but they are there.”

Villanueva has found a home here at UMass Dartmouth, where he was selected for the Dean’s list of top academic performers at the university.

“In high school, I kind of struggled.  I didn’t do that well and I had a hard time, so coming back and earning a high GPA was really exciting for me,” recalls Villanueva. “It feels good to come back and earn that on my first semester back. It really helped me feel like I was making the right choice, and that I could do this.”

Villanueva was also recognized by the Student Veterans Association for his academic success in the Fall 2021 semester.